A Travellerspoint blog


Searching for the elusive St. Charles' Church

sunny 70 °F

When you book hostels, most dorms are “mixed” meaning for guys and girls. But many hostels have female-only dorms as well (of course for extra money), so the mixed dorms usually end up being all guys. My roommates were fine, but they were quiet. All but one was gone from my second night to the first. The way they usually have dorms set up is with bunk beds, but this hostel had one bunk bed and then two beds side by side…close enough together to be kind of creepy. Unfortunately when I checked in, the bunks were already taken so I spent a night within arms reach of some random guy. When I went to bed last night, it looked as if I wouldn’t have a neighbor, but when I woke up there was a girl within arms reach. I give her a lot of credit for staying in a mixed dorm. I know a lot of girls who wouldn’t dream of doing that. Never met her though, because I woke up, checked out and was off! Unfortunately, my hostel was on the other side of town from the train station, so I wouldn’t be able to leave my stuff there without going way out of my way to pick it up to leave, so I was carrying my full backpack all day.

First on the list was the South Tower of St. Stephan’s. This one was accessible by elevator, so it was a quick trip up. It houses the world’s second largest hanging church bell!

Being on the South side also gives you a much better view down onto Stephansplatz (aka Stephan’s Square).

As I descended, I realized that my ticket was also good for the Church’s treasury. Since I found myself with an extra day in Vienna without a full day’s worth of plans, I decided it couldn’t hurt to check it out. It turns out that the treasury itself wasn’t too exciting, but the views it gave of the church an its organ were unparalleled. Plus I was the only one up there!

St. Stephans also has a 10,000 pipe organ that was paid for by West Germany to restore good relations after the war. I’ve never been able to see an organ up close before.
Also, when I looked extra close, I could see little pieces from each organ pipe cut and rolled down. I’m guessing it was for tuning, but I took a ton of pictures figuring Grandpa Jim would like to see them.

As I exited, I ran across a couple Mozarts.
I can’t believe I have neglected to mention them up to this point. They’re trying to sell tickets to opera and orchestral concerts and most of them dress up like Mozart. Vienna is very high class with its Operas, its roots in classical music, its horse drawn carriages and its world-renowned Spanish Riding School, but these Mozarts are a welcome diversion that pokes a bit of fun at all of that posh entertainment.

Next on my list was the Austrian National Library. It seemed like an odd tourist attraction, but it had phenomenal reviews online, so I decided to check it out. Plus it had a temporary exhibition on Austria in WWI which I was excited to check out. The library houses some 200,000 books published between 1500 and 1850. The building itself was completed in 1726 and is absolutely exquisite.
They had a few sweet globes in there. Apparently globes used to be exclusively sold in sets of two…one “terrestrial” globe that depicted the oceans and continents and another “celestial” globe that showed the positioning of the stars and constellations. While I found the globes beautiful to look at, I wasn’t compelled to go to the world’s largest globe museum next door :-)

The library’s two wings are named the War and Peace Wings. Interestingly, War and Peace were not seen as opposites but as complementary aspects of an orderly world. The monarch was said to bring balance and harmony between the two.

The exhibition was also fascinating. I love to learn about history that I already know the general storyline, but get to hear it from the perspective of another country. On June 28th, 1914, a Serbian nationalist assassinated Austrian prince Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie (daughter of Sisi – that poor cursed family almost rivals the Kennedys!) The Austrians drew up an ultimatum for Serbia and threatened war if they didn’t comply. Germany essentially said they would stand with Austria if they declared war, while Russia (and later the UK and France) threw their support behind Serbia. When Serbia didn’t comply, Austria declared war and then everyone else was begrudgingly pulled in. The Austrians had poor leadership and few victories in WWI, which led to tens of thousands of desertions.

Italy complicated matters for Austria. They had been a part of the pact with Germany and Austria since 1882, but wanted to stay neutral in the war. Then, they tried to get Austria and Germany to give them land in order to stay neutral, but they refused, which opened up a southern front for Austria’s war efforts. One of the few bright spots in Austria’s war effort was being able to fend off Italy on their Southern border. One funny piece they had from WWI was a certificate for the Raise the Hat campaign. Gentlemen who paid to join the club got one of these certificates that said they didn’t need to tip their hat in public (which was customary at the time). There’s some out of the box thinking for fundraising!

Germany felt confident that they would win the war and gave unconditional support to its allies in terms of troops, money and food. They even recruited Turkey and Bulgaria to join in. Their ultimate plan was to have all of Central Europe under German control. While this was supported by the German speakers of the Hapsburg Empire, the other 10 nationalities of the empire weren’t crazy about the idea. Franz Joseph tried to get Austria out of the war, but Germany compelled him to continue the war until it was too late to turn back. In 1916, Emperor Franz Joseph died, which was the start of the collapse of the monarchy. In the aftermath of the war, the Austro-Hungarian Empire was essentially dismantled and with it went the power of the Hapsburgs.

As the allies closed in on the borders of the empire, the people living on the borders fled inland. Many cities were overwhelmed by the mass of homeless refugees. Over 200,000 came to Vienna. Many cities had to shut down to refugees. 8.5 million men from Austria-Hungary served in the war, with 1.2 million losing their lives and over 3.5 million wounded. Many more ended up in POW camps, with 2 million Austro-Hungarian soldiers being held in Russia. Clearly they paid a heavy toll.

Another unique Austria perspective from their war efforts was their “Fatherland Education.” At the beginning of the war, all of the deceased soldiers were published in the newspaper, but as the death tolls racked up, it was suspended because it was killing morale. To try to keep the morale high for future generations, they created stories and sold war toys while incorporating enthusiasm for the war in schooling through art projects and writing assignments. They actually had some of the art on display and even an essay entitled “How I would defeat the English” by a primary school student. It was an incredible collection. The library actually started collecting testimonies of the war from the very beginning through photos, posters, war diaries and other first-hand accounts. After the war was lost, the collection was neglected for many decades before being recently brought back out for display.

After the library, I checked my map and looked at the listing of sights to be seen. One church I hadn’t been to that I had seen all over the place on artwork and souvenirs of Vienna was Steinhof Church. I decided to check it out. It was a bit outside of town and only really accessible by bus, so I hopped on. Not only are the Austrians very compliant folks when it comes to crossing the street, but they’re so compliant that you don’t even have to show a ticket to get on the bus. They’re just that trustworthy I guess. I can’t imagine that would ever fly in America. Bus companies would go out of business in a month.

Steinhof church was not an easy place to find. It was so far out of town that it was off my map, but the map said which stop to get off the bus and made it seem like it would be a piece of cake from there. Not the case. I didn’t see any signs whatsoever, which was unusual for a tourist attraction. I headed one way down the road until it started looking like a residential area, then doubled back and headed the other way past the bus stop. Eventually I saw a sign for Steinhof park and figured that would be the way, but after wandering there for a bit, started to question that logic. Actually the harder it was to find the more excited I became. If this church was so hard to find but still featured prominently on Vienna’s many souvenirs, it must be a pretty epic church. Luckily I found a guy in the park and asked him about the church. Turns out he works there and was walking home. He opened up his backpack and gave me a map. The church was up a massive hill on the grounds of a hospital that I had passed a half mile back.

The church was beautiful, although didn’t quite meet my sky high expectations that had been building up. It was very simply decorated, but elegant in it’s simplicity.
It’s perch atop this large hill with Vienna on the horizon was a sight to behold. After wandering the church, I went out to admire the view and pulled out my map. I was exhausted after walking around all day carrying my full backpack and I was ready to call it a day and head to Munich. Just then, I caught a glimpse of the map’s picture of Steinhof Church. I wondered how they had got the shot. It was from quite a distance and seemed to be taken on the same level as the church. Such a shot would not be possible here. Standing from the same location would put you quite a bit down the hill from the church. It was then that I started examining the church and the picture more closely. Then, my heart sank. Both churches were a bright white with green (oxidized copper) domes edged in gold. Both had two towers in front. But they weren’t the same church. It was then that I realized my error. Looking at the map again. I saw that the picture was referring to St. Charles’ church ABOVE the photo instead of Steinhof below. I had just spent a few hours taking a bus and climbing a hill and didn’t have to do any of that to see St. Charles’, which was walking distance from center city. I had to laugh. Now determined to conquer this church, I mustered the energy to head back to the city and make one more stop before the train station.

As I looked for possibilities to turn my side trip into a positive experience, I found plenty to help make my case. First, I got to see my favorite car in the world up super close. The Audi R8.

Also, I walked by a street fair and got to check it out. There were a variety of neat crafts for sale. By far my favorite was this guy selling colorful lederhosen.
I seriously considered buying some. I would have paid $50, maybe $75 to connect with my German roots. But $250? Not so much. Nevertheless, they were awesome.

There were some guys playing didgeridoos too!

On an unrelated note, I passed by a gym. It's the first one I’ve seen since I got here. It always astounds me how rare it is to see a gym in Europe. I suppose I’m not necessarily in the residential areas, but still. You can’t go 5 blocks in NYC or Boston without seeing gyms.

After a bit of a hike, I found St. Charles Church at long last. I couldn’t tell if it was a really beautiful church or if I was just phenomenally happy to have conquered the journey to get there.
The reflecting pool was pretty epic too.

I tried to get inside, but they had just closed the stairs to get to the top of the dome and for some reason they wouldn’t let anyone in the church for another 15 minutes. Plus, getting in the church would cost the same amount as the climb to the top plus getting in the church. I decided not to wait and that I could still call it a victory and also decided not to make my customary walk to the train station, but instead to take the subway to the train station since there was a subway station right below St. Charles’. I was phenomenally happy with both decisions, because when I got to the train station, the next train to Munich was leaving in 10 minutes. The following train wouldn’t leave for another hour and a half, so now I’ll be able to get into Munich at a reasonable hour. Great success!

The countryside was beautiful. With the speed of the trains, however, it was almost impossible to capture.
The train even had train attendants that sold food on a cart like in an airplane. I’ve never seen that before!
It was then that I realized that it was midsummer! The longest day of the year! I wished that I could be in Sweden to see the festivities! As I watched the sun finally go down, I noticed that somebody somewhere close by was getting to watch a solar eclipse, which is a rare enough occurrence by itself, but at sunset on midsummer? Wow.

If you look closely, you can see both the sun and the moon…

As soon as I stepped off the train in Munich, I loved the place. There was a certain energy about it. I quickly realized why. My hostel was less than a mile from the train station, but as I walked down the street, there were at least a half dozen bars on each block showing the world cup. Then, I realized that it was the Germany game! How lucky I was to be there to catch the second half!

Before I left the train station, however, I saw my old favorite from Berlin, currywurst. It’s basically just a hot dog with curry powder but for some reason it’s very popular and makes me feel like I’m having an authentic German experience. Bernd and Elke introduced me to Currywurst in Berlin last year. This currywurst, however, took it to the next level. They had 8 different levels of spiciness. I couldn’t walk away from a currywurst stand touting the hottest currywurst in Germany! Of course I had to take the hottest one too. It seared my mouth and made my eyes water, but it wasn’t unbearable.

Anyways, back to the game. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t realized that Germany was playing. I stopped for a few minutes at each bar along the way.
It was so neat to see the town ground to a halt as everyone gathered around a tv to watch the game. My mouth was still burning, so I eventually stopped at one bar to watch the last 20 minutes or so and try out a famous Munich beer. I chose the "franziskaner weissbier," which was pretty solid. If there is a monk on it, you know its good!

It was truly a treat to be able to sit alongside the Germans and watch a World Cup game with them. Just a shame there wasn’t a win to cheer about. I’m just glad that I’ll be safely out of the country by the time they play the US!

A few other things I saw along the way. First, a store actually selling lederhosen and traditional Bavarian gear. Amazing! I love this place.

Also, next to the bar I stopped at, there was a pharmacy that had it’s doors almost completely closed, but people were lined up and the pharmacist would come to the door to take a fill their orders. Not sure what to make of this. It’s safer than staying open I guess? Or she was just trying to leave and closed the doors and a line started forming? Not sure.

When I finally got to my hostel, there was a party going on in the lobby,
but I was completely spent and went directly to sleep.

Posted by atbrady 16:44 Archived in Austria Tagged st. church train world to cup charles munich lederhosen Comments (0)

Crowns, Jewels and Royals at Schonbrun Palace

Just Outside Vienna

sunny 70 °F

Despite the late night, I had a lot on my agenda today and got a pretty early start. First up was going to the grocery store which was actually open when they said they would be! Great start! There is a (crappy) breakfast you can buy at the hotel, which was great for me because it meant I was the only one in the kitchen in the morning.

Scrambled eggs, broccoli and CNN? Feels like home!

After breakfast, I grabbed Arthur and planned out my day. I knew I would be spending the afternoon out at Schonbrun palace, but wanted to make the most of the morning while I was still in town. As I was planning, I heard a voice from across the lobby that I instantly recognized. It was Alex from the Mandala Hostel in Budapest. What are the chances that we not only go to the same city, but stay at the same hostel? It’s a small world, even in Europe. Also while I was planning, I saw several families pass through the lobby with little kids. They must have a bunch of private rooms here as well. That, or if you’re a family of 4 or 6, you could just take up an entire hostel room.

As I set out and crossed the bridge into the main town, I saw probably the 10th person walking with their dog without a leash. I don’t know what kind of dog training schools they have in Europe, but the dogs are incredibly well behaved. It’s more common for people to be walking their dogs without a leash than with one. And all of the dogs stay right next to their owners. It’s sort of amazing. Soon after that, I saw a cop fiddling with the electrical box for a traffic light when it hit me that in all my travels yesterday, I never saw a single cop. In Budapest there weren’t a ton, but they were definitely present. But to walk around town for over 12 hours and countless miles zig-zagging the city and never see a cop is pretty remarkable. IS it just THAT safe? A corollary to that is that after seeing a decent amount of bums/panhandlers in Budapest, I didn’t see a single panhandler during my entire day either. I wonder if those two facts are related at all.

Anyways, first on my agenda was to see a few of the beautiful monuments I passed last night but now to see them in the light of day. I was lucky to have perfect weather with just enough clouds for some beautiful shots. Here’s the Rathaus in the morning sunshine.
And the arcade that makes up the entranceway. Just beautiful.

Then Parliament…
…and me trying to take an artsy picture from the front porch

Finally the part of the Hofberg palace that has been turned into museums wasn’t especially well-lit last night. It’s too bad, because the buildings are beautiful!

The first scheduled stop of the day was at the Imperial Treasury. As you can probably imagine for a city with as rich of a history as Vienna, the collection was pretty remarkable. It’s so much easier to learn about history when you’re in the town square or the castle where it all happened!

And then is the crown he was wearing, which was commissioned by Emperor Rudolf II in 1602.
This crown is especially rare, because each king typically had his own private crown that was usually dismantled after death (usually to reuse the gems for a new crown) so this is the only one that remains. Also, the imperial mantle…

I learned a bit more about the Holy Roman Empire as well. I must have knew this at one point for AP European History, but those brain cells are long gone. The HRE had 8 electors that were the most powerful princes in the empire and would elect the new king.

The Hapsburgs were the ruling family of Vienna and later Austria. Napoleon himself actually entered the house of Hapsburg when he married Arch Duchess Marie Louise, the eldest daughter of Francis I. Forget a silver spoon…Napoleon’s son, Napoleon Francis had this cradle made of 280kg of silver. Rough life!

It was an interesting marriage…in 1804 Francis actually declared the end of the Holy Roman Empire because Napoleon was threatening and it was too weak to defend due to conflicts from within. In 1809, Napoleon defeated Austria and “got” Francis’ daughter in the peace treaty. Little Napoleon Francis was born in 1811 and soon after, the old European powers united against Napoleon. When he was defeated, it brought new power and influence to the Hapsburg Empire.

I forget what this emerald was for, but it’s the largest cut emerald in the world at 2860 karats, so I figured that was worth taking a picture of.

After the royal treasury, I headed back to St. Stephan’s. Yesterday when I bought my ticket, I got the combo ticket that was good for the tour of the church as well as a trip up both of the towers and into the catacombs. I headed up the North Tower, the higher of the two. They actually ran out of money to complete the South Tower that was supposed to be the same size as the North and instead capped it with a copper dome. The North Tower is only accessible by stairs, 343 to be exact. Not only did it give a great view of Vienna,
but also of the uniquely colorful roof of St. Stephans.

Back down on ground level, there was a lineup of horse-drawn carriages to take you anywhere you wanted in Vienna. These guys are everywhere!

I decided to save the South Tower for another day just to space out the birds-eye views, but before I left I went to the catacombs. Unfortunately, there were no pictures allowed down there. Usually that doesn’t stop me (see all of the pictures taken in the Imperial Treasury…shh…don’t tell), but we were in a small tour group that made it pretty tough. The tour guide gave the tour in German and English, switching back and forth to repeat his spiel in each room in both languages. It was sort of hilarious because he had clearly been taught English by an Irish person so it was funny to hear an Austrian guy speaking English with an Irish accent. The Hapsburgs were buried in the catacombs beneath the church. In what was apparently the tradition, their organs were removed from their bodies and put in separate urns filled with alcohol to preserve them. There was an especially large tomb for Rudolph and his wife Catherine, who founded both St. Stephens and the University of Vienna. And get this: They were married when Rudolph was 14 and Catherine was 11, and engaged when they were 9 and 6, respectively. Clearly enjoying seeing everyone wince at this fact, the tour guide assured us that this was quite normal back then since marriages were political and not about love.

Then it was on to Schonbrun palace. A main hub of the subway system is conveniently right at St. Stephans. 1 ticket cost 2.20 and I was about to buy it, when I looked into another few options and found a 2 way ticket for 2.40. I was pretty proud of myself for not falling into the tourist trap. It was a pretty quick trip to Schonbrun. Only about 20 minutes on the subway. The place is absolutely massive. I’m pretty sure Versailles (outside of Paris) is the biggest, but Schonbrun wasn’t too far behind.
They had horses here too. The driver practically posed for me!

Pictures weren’t allowed here either, so if the pictures aren’t well centered or aren’t especially straight, it’s because I had to take them stealthily with my phone.

Again with these darn fireplaces! Apparently the Hapsburgs REALLY didn’t like having to be bothered just to watch their servants stoke the fire. All of the rooms have fireplaces that were stoked from outside the room.

Here’s the office of the beloved Franz Joseph (remember him from yesterday? He was the poor guy married to “Sisi.” He awoke at 5am and worked 16 hour days. Also remember that he would regularly see up to 100 people in his office in the mornings. He became king at age 18 and died at 86, keeping this schedule throughout. You’ve gotta hand it to the guy. Probably why he was so loved by his people. He called himself the “First public servant of his state.”

At the castle they had a really adorable children’s program where the kids got a special tour and before they went, they got to put on kids clothes from the time of the Hapsburgs.

This clock was awesome because it had another face on the back that went in reverse so that it could be read in the mirror.

There was also a room dedicated to Marie Antionette, the youngest daughter of Maria Theresa, who married the heir to the French throne that became Louis XIV. Both Maria and Louis were executed in 1793 as part of the French revolution.

This is where the Royal family ate. It was common for them to eat French food at official dinners, but at family dinners, they preferred traditional Viennese such as Tafelspitz, which is boiled beef....sounds thrilling.

This is the room where Mozart first played for the Queen…at 6 years old!

This remarkable hall was clearly the highlight of the palace.
It’s essentially the Hapsburgs answer to the famous Hall of Mirrors at Versailles. I’ve run out of adjectives to describe the magnificence of the room, but especially of the frescoes on the ceiling.

Interestingly, in 1961 Kennedy and Khrushchev met in this room to attempt a diplomatic cooling of the Cold War.

I didn’t get a very good picture of this painting, but it depicts wedding procession for one of the kings that was said to be 98 carriages long. The procession literally had to zigzag back and forth on the palace grounds so that they would all fit.

Then was the so-called Napoleon Room, because it is where Napoleon resided from 1805-1809 when he essentially forced himself into the house of the Hapsburgs.
Napoleon’s son died at the age of 21, much to the relief of the many kings of Europe who had feared him and after Napoleon was defeated had put several restrictions on him to keep him from ever attaining power.

As is probably clear from the many young marriages and marriages to Royalty in other countries, it was said that the Hapsburgs attained power and influence from strategic marriages rather than by waging wars, which is one of the reasons they were able to rule for so long. I basically stayed at Schonbrun exploring the palace and grounds until they closed the place down. By the time I got back to town and had something to eat, it was getting late and I felt that I had already gotten my fill of Vienna at night, so I stayed in at the Meninger. I was scheduled to head home in four days so clearly I had to rearrange my planned itinerary and book hostel accommodations. I was kicking myself for not doing the South Tower of St. Stephan’s when I had the chance. I decided that I would cut Munich out of my trip, having already seen much of Germany and that I would book the first train to Prague in the morning so that I could get a full two days in Prague, then leave for my last two days in Copenhagen. But as I was deciding when to leave for Copenhagen, I wanted to double check my flight details because I wasn’t sure what time I would be leaving. If it was in the morning, I wanted to get to Copenhagen earlier since I wouldn’t be able to explore on the final day, but if it was later then I would have more time on the final day. When I looked at my itinerary, I saw that my flight wasn't booked for the morning or afternoon of the 24th, but instead for the 29th. I had been monitoring flights on Kayak for this trip for weeks and I always do the plus or minus 3 days search to find the cheapest flights. For weeks, the cheapest flight was on Tuesday the 24th, but in the final days before I booked, the cheapest flight must have become the Sunday the 29th flight, but because the departure and arrival times were the same, I hadn’t noticed. Hmm. I called Norwegian, who wanted $250 for a change fee, plus paying the difference of my flight from what the flight costs now, which was another $300 or so. I guess that's what you get for booking a low budget airline. In contrast, I could change my JetBlue flight for a flat fee of 100 bucks. It was kind of a no-brainer. There are worse things than an extra 5 days in Europe! Now I decided to stay an extra day in Vienna, added back my planned 3 days in Munich and got to spend a full 3 days in Prague rather than just 2. The problem with going to both Munich and Prague from Vienna is that the 3 are basically in a triangle, so no matter where I went first, I would kind of be going out of my way to go to the other. So it didn’t really matter which I did first, or so I thought. I figured it would be easier to do Prague then Munich figuring that a train from Munich to Copenhagen would be easier since it only crosses 2 countries (Germany and Denmark) instead of 3 (Czech Republic). But, I was wrong and so glad that I checked ahead of time—clearly not usually my style! There’s actually an overnight train that goes direct from Prague to Copenhagen, but not from Munich. So after spending an hour researching Prague and planning my first day there, I had to change course and educate myself on Munich. Luckily I hadn’t booked a place in Prague yet. I was a little frustrated with the Hostelbookers website, too. I filtered by the cheapest places in Munich and found a place with a good location and decent price, then when I went to check out, the price was higher than expected. It turns out that they quote the price for the first night of your stay but the rates fluctuate every day and conveniently my second and third nights were 50% more expensive than the first. Oh well. Still not too bad in the scheme of things. With all those logistics figured out, it was late and I still had a day to check a few things off my list in Vienna before catching an afternoon train to Munich, so I hit the sack. More adventures tomorrow!

Posted by atbrady 16:39 Archived in Austria Tagged vienna palace mozart hapsburgs schonbrun Comments (0)

Wandering around Vienna

Castles and Horses and Royals, oh my!

sunny 70 °F

When I woke up at 4:15am to get to the train station by 4:45, it was almost completely light out. While I’m not as far north as I was in Stockholm, I’m significantly farther east but still in the same time zone (that stretches all the way from central Europe to Portugal), so the sun comes up very early here and goes down a bit earlier since Budapest is on the eastern edge of the time zone.

I was kind of excited to be on the train in the morning because I figured that there would be more to see along the way, but all I saw on the way to Vienna was a whole lot of countryside. Instead, I paid attention to the people getting on the train and being greeted at the platforms of our stops along the way. We’re definitely in double cheek kiss country.

In researching what to do in Vienna, I thought that I would find another free tour to get my lay of the land, but searching around travel forums yielded a disappointing fact. There are none. All tour guides in Vienna have to be licensed, so free tours are out of the question. It looked like a pretty easy city to navigate, however, with a big ring in a half circle with both ends on the river. Just about everything there is to see is on that ring. I booked a hotel that was just across the river on the street that was basically the continuation of one end of the ring. It’s called the Meninger Hostel and it wasn’t too hard to find. Again one of the first things I noticed along the way was how many darn smokers there are. You’re killing me Central Europe! These folks are definitely hard core rule followers on the crosswalks as well. A new curiousity that I spotted in Austria was their newspaper selling stations. Unlike the permanent ones that are commonly seen in the States, in Austria they have little baggies with locks (to take your change) on them that are hanging literally everywhere. Presumably, they just switch out the empty bags tomorrow morning.

When I arrived at the Meninger it’s definitely a different vibe than the cozy atmosphere of Mandala.
Whereas Mandala truly felt like a home, Meninger is basically a hotel that just has 4-6 beds per room. Very sterile. Ikea-type furniture. Nothing wrong with that…the price is right and it’s a place to sleep. Which is pretty much all I do at a hostel anyways. When I tried to check in, I was informed that my reservation had been cancelled. Apparently, when I didn’t show up last night, they charged me for that one night then cancelled the rest of the reservation. Normally, I would say that is pretty kind of them to not charge me for all three nights, but in my case, it wasn’t too helpful to have my reservation cancelled. The guy at the counter pulled one of those acts that people in the service industry sometimes do where they make it seem like it’s going to be very difficult for you to get what you want and that they’re doing you a huge favor so that you can be extra grateful for their heroic help. Long-story short, I got rebooked but it was still far too early for check in, so I had to put my stuff in the luggage room. I didn’t really trust the giant luggage room at this place, so I took all my clothes out of my backpack to lighten the load and stuck it in a plastic bag in the luggage room, but kept all of my valuables (passport, wallet, electronics) in my backpack for the day. A bit heavy, but if I lost my computer and or camera with all of my pictures on it, I would be devastated. One of the first things I learned from my first trip abroad was to bring a few plastic grocery bags. You WILL need them even though you’ll never know what for. Plus they take up almost no space when you’re not using them. Win-win! Glad I had them this time around. After a quick turnaround in the luggage room, it wasn’t yet 10am so I still had all day ahead of me to explore!

Forgoing a tour, I instead referred back to Arthur, who’s recommended itinerary for one day in Prague was to go to St. Peter’s Church and explore the old town in the morning, then go to Schonbrun palace in the afternoon. Schonbrun was a bit out of town, however and since I was getting a pretty late start, I decided to put that off for another day. I figured I would start at St. Stephan’s then walk the outer ring to get a lay of the land and see if there was anything along the way that looked exciting.

One of the tips that Chris gave me about traveling is that your phone uses GPS even when it’s not on a network. So, if when you have an internet connection, you can open the Maps app on your phone and zoom in to wherever in the world you’re going to be. Once the map is loaded, it will show up even when you don’t have an internet connection and because your GPS doesn’t need cell service, the little blue dot that is you will show up on the preloaded map. I still prefer a paper map, but if you don’t have one or if you’re just REALLY lost, this works like a charm. It’s always kind of a fun symbolic transition to get a new map. After three days of constant use, my Budapest map was well worn and starting to tear at the creases. That’s when you know that it’s time to move on! Bring on the crisp new Vienna map to wear over the next few days!

It’s actually pretty remarkable how quickly you can get to know your way around a city. The first rule is WALK EVERYWHERE. Walking forces you to slow down and gives your brain plenty of time to take it all in. Plus, if you take a subway you aren’t going to have a clue where anything is in the city and you’ll be missing all of the beautiful nooks and crannies of the city that you came to see! At least half of the beauty and character of a city is BETWEEN the sights. I’m always very conscious of how many times in a blog post I say “on the way to ______” or “before I got to ______.” I say it so often that it even annoys me! While I probably need to incorporate some new phrases into my vocabulary, the lesson is that a ton of the interesting stuff happens wandering around the city in the less famous places, with your head up and your eyes wide open, you’ll see all kinds of magic that gives you a glimpse into the real heart of the city TODAY, rather than that giant stone building built by some guy 500 years ago. For example, just about everyone who visits Vienna will probably go to St. Peter’s Church. They’ll more or less take the same pictures and read the same plaques. But what makes the experience truly your own is the unique perspectives you’ll find along the way. Which is why the second rule is GET LOST. It’s going to happen. There’s no use fighting it and certainly no use getting flustered. You’re going to find something spectacular along the way…a neat restaurant that locals actually go to (rather than the ones that cater to tourists near the main attractions), an alleyway that is as pretty as a postcard or at the very least you’ll get to know some inch of the city that 90% of the other tourists haven’t seen too. Rule 3 is that once you know how to get where you want to go along the main arteries of the city, you can’t let yourself use them anymore. You’ve already seen them! Even if you walk 20 miles a day for three days you still wont cover 25% of the streets in the city. There is so much out there to explore! Don’t let yourself be lazy and do what is comfortable. You’ll notice that the benefits of “travel brain” deteriorate exponentially each time you double back over territory you’ve already covered. If you want to stay fully engaged, to keep your brain and your senses active, to feel fully alive, novelty is your friend. Finally, don’t be afraid to look like a tourist and CONSULT YOUR MAP! Stop in the middle of the street, check for street signs. Who cares if you look silly? You’re exploring a new city and unlike 90% of the others that get to know the three main streets that connect the three main attractions, you’re getting a pulse on the true nature of your environment. The exception to this rule is an advanced strategy only if you can truly get in the right mindset. I call it embracing “shiny object syndrome.” Normally, shiny object syndrome can be a bad thing if overused. It’s typical of people who are jumping from one thing to another when they see a new “shiny object” without ever really finishing anything. I’m certainly guilty of this sometimes. But when you’re traveling it can be a good thing. Put away your map and embrace shiny object syndrome. If you see a street that looks interesting, go that way. Does that alleyway scream to have it’s picture taken? Snap away! Smell something good? Check it out! Want to climb that hill to get a view of the city from above? Go for it! Who knows where you’ll end up. But if you have a few hours and you’ve already checked off the essential attractions from your list, give it a go. After 12 hours of walking a city (usually at the end of day 1 for me) you’ll have a remarkable comfort level and can probably find your way home from anywhere with only a rare glance at your map. Not to get too deep (or did we already pass that point), but theres a lot of metaphors in there about how I try to approach life. Wow that was a tangent. Back to St. Stephan’s!

They’re currently renovating the exterior of St. Peters and the difference is pretty remarkable. Check out the front of the church in relation to the side. The front used to be just as dark. Must be a power-washer on steroids.
As I got to St. Stephan’s, I saw a strange little religious-looking stage set up outside. It was roped off, but I couldn’t really figure out what was going on.
The entrance to the church was roped off too. As I walked toward the outer ring for a stroll, I hadn't gotten very far when heard a faint chanting that grew louder with each block. Eventually I could see that a crowd was lining the streets as some kind of procession was going by.
Since I’m not a very good Catholic and recently learned about a few Catholic holidays I should have known about but hadn’t heard of until they popped up on my phone’s calendar, I had the inkling to check my phone calendar and sure enough, it was Corpus Christi. Turns out that’s not just a town in Texas! Also, the chanting in German strangely sounded remarkably similar to the chanting in Istanbul.

Just a few blocks from St, Stephan’s is St. Peter’s.
Why you need two churches in 3 blocks I don’t know, but St. Peter’s wasn’t roped off, so I went inside. St. Peter’s is built on the site of Vienna’s first church. The original church was built at a time when Vienna was still a Roman camp by the name of Vindobona. It was replaced with a Romanesque church that was later replaced with the present Baroque structure completed in 1733. Holy mass has been celebrated DAILY at this site for 1600 years. Not since 1600, mind you, but for 1600 years. Hard to fathom.

The inside of the church is stunning and unusually colorful.
The cupola even has a fresco with Sistine Chapel-like beauty.
Outside, there is a relief that depicts the supposed founding of St. Peter’s by Charlemagne in the middle ages.

When I stopped at an ATM to take out money, it had the option to take out cash or “load phone.” I’ve heard about people being able to use their mobile phones for money transactions in Africa where there is little infrastructure, but I didn’t know it was a thing in Europe. I’m very curious as to how it works. Not curious enough to load my phone at this point though…

As I walked the outer ring, I saw endless streams of horse drawn carriages. It definitely rivals Venice’s gondolas in their ubiquity.

When I got about halfway around the arch, I came to the Hofberg Palace Complex.
It’s pretty impossible to miss. The massive palaces and gardens seem to take up about a third of Vienna’s historical center. A bunch of the old palaces have been turned into museums. I remember that the Hofberg had made the cut on Arthur’s 2 days in Vienna itinerary, so I decided to check it out. I bought the “Sisi” combo ticket of the Silver Collection, the Imperial Apartments and the Sisi Museum. First up was the Silver Collection. It started with a whole lot of SILVER-ware. It was common for silver plates, bowls and utensils to be melted down when they showed signs of wear (or when the owner was hurting for cash) so not many old sets exist, but they certainly had enough table settings for the whole city.

At the end of the 18th Century during the Napoleonic Wars, even more silverware got melted down to make coins and such to pay for all the wartime expenses. But how would the royals eat? Porcelain from the far East had become a collectors item but wasn’t considered fashionable enough to be used in the high courts, but at this point they didn’t have much of a choice. The king commissioned a 128 piece set and just to spruce them up a bit, had them hand painted with gold and with landscapes from throughout the empire. To hand paint all 128 pieces took 5 years!
Of course, when the royals visited Schonbrun palace, their summer home, they needed to bring their royal plates with them, so there were countless boxes custom made to hold each piece. If silver just isn’t fancy enough for you to eat off of, check out this collection of gold plates, part of a 4,500 piece set that weighs 1,000 kg. Of gold.
Check out this 30m long “centerpiece” (if you can even call it that) created for the Coronation of Francis I. It was so long I had to use the panorama feature on my phone.
The Viennese are also serious about napkin folding. They could probably even teach the Cornell “Hotelies” a thing or two. Here’s some pretty intricate animals.
The masterpiece of their napkin folding, however, is a special technique that is to this day only used at State dinners. It conveniently holds two Vienna rolls. The method to fold this napkin is such a closely guarded secret that only 2 people know how to do it.
Like I said, they are serious about napkin folding.

After getting more than my fill of silverware, it was on to the Sisi museum. Remember the kid during the Budapest free tour that interjected with his knowledge of Sisi? At the time I was impressed, but after going to this museum, I figured out that he actually probably just came from Vienna before going to Budapest.

Elisabeth, or Sisi as her family called her, was having a nice relaxing childhood in the countryside when two sisters, Sisi’s mom and the mother of Emperor Franz Joseph tried to set up Sisi’s older sister with Franz Joseph. Yup, encouraging cousins to get married. First cousins! Fantastic. Sisi came along with her mother and sister to the party that was put on so the two could meet. Instead, Franz Joseph fell in love with Sisi and asked for her hand in marriage. Still cousins. She accepted but soon after was quoted as saying “I’m so fond of the emperor. If only he weren’t the emperor” before bursting into tears. Clearly she knew she wasn’t going to like this life in the spotlight, but felt that she couldn’t say no. But what shall you wear to marry your emperor cousin?

She clearly had a depression for most of her life. She wrote a lot of poetry that they would quote and one that I liked was “Destinations are only desirable because of the journey that lies in between.” And that going to one place knowing that she would never be able to leave—even if it was her favorite place—would be the worst kind of torture. She was probably very introverted, because she hated going to official court meetings and though she tried to show up at the beginning, she eventually avoided them altogether. She was frequently traveling, which conveniently kept her from having to go to any official functions. On one trip on a ship when the weather was brutal, she had the sailors tie her to the mast like Odysseus so that she could experience the power of mother nature. Sisi was also seen as one of the most beautiful women of her era and went through some pretty extreme diet regimens to maintain her figure…99lbs and a 20 inch waist on a 5’8” frame. She also spent 2-3 hours per day getting her hair done. So in a nutshell, an vain, introverted, depressed Empress with an eating disorder. After the suicide of her oldest son, she would only wear black.

The only time she ever interfered in court affairs was when she convinced her husband to recognize the historical rights of Hungary and it’s people (aka what the Budapest tour kid was talking about).

On one of her trips, she was in Geneva where Italian anarchist Luigi Luchenni happened to lie in waiting to assassinate Prince Henri of Orleans, but the prince’s plans had changed. Although Sisi used a fake name to check into her hotel, the 19th century paparazzi figured out that she was in town and it made it into the newspapers. So Luigi changed his plans and decided to go after Sisi, a much bigger target. He stabbed her in the chest with this small knife.

Since she refused her official duties as empress and traveled constantly, she basically became estranged from her husband. While her husband, Emperor Franz Joseph, was exceptionally well-liked, the people didn’t feel the same way about Sisi. But that all seemed to change after her assassination. Her husband had remained deeply in love with her and as he mourned, Sisi’s legacy was written as a kind but misunderstood Empress. In death, she (and her legend) became extremely popular with the people of Austria.

After learning about this troubled woman, it was time to check out the Imperial Apartments where she and her husband had lived. Here’s the office of emperor Franz Joseph.
I’m guessing one of the reasons that he was so well liked was that he was up at 5am every morning and granted an audience to up to 100 of his subjects before lunch to hear their grievances and requests.

Most rooms had a fireplace like the one you see here, but they were all closed off, with an opening on the other side of the wall to stoke the fire so as to not bother the royals by lugging wood into the room.

Here was a chinup bar, rings and some kind of vertical monkey bars that Sisi used every day to work out…much to the chagrin of her mother-in-law who thought that it wasn’t very ladylike.

Here’s where they ate.
Usually, they would have 9-13 courses and tradition dictated that the course was over and everyone’s plates were cleared as soon as the Emperor put down his utensils. But, ever the benevolent leader, Franz Joseph was known to eat slowly and wait until everyone had finished. During dinner, it was impolite to have conversations with anyone other than your immediate neighbors.

The Hofberg Palace is a sprawling 240,000m2 and was the residence of the Hapsburg dynasty for over 600 years.

As I continued to wander, I walked through the main square I saw that St. Stephan’s was no longer closed off for the Corpus Christi festivities and decided to check one more thing off the list. This St. Stephan is different than the St. Stephen from Budapest. Vienna’s St. Stephan refers to the St. Stephan that was the first martyr of Christiandom. The original church was razed and the current one was built in the 13th century. That’s right, this bad boy is 850 years old.

Notably, Mozart attended church here and was married here. Two of his five kids were baptized here.

Here’s Frederick III’s grave.
Who was Frederick the III, you ask? Well, in 1440 he became the German King, in 1452, he became the Holy Roman Emperor and in 1459 the King of Hungary. So he was kind of a big deal. Hence the tomb with the 8 ton lid. 8 tons.

By now it was about 6pm and I figured I should get back to the hostel to eat and check in to my room. There was a grocery store around the corner from the hostel that was open until 7pm, so I figured I would grab something quick, them come back out on the town to check it out at night.

When I got back, it was close to 6:30 so I figured I would go to the grocery store before checking in. I got there and all the lights were off. I double checked the times on the window. M-F 8-19. I double-checked 19-12 a couple times to make sure that did in fact mean 7pm. Yet the lights were off and the door was locked. Grr. Heading back to the hotel to check in, I asked about the grocery store. How could I forget? It was Corpus Christi. How silly of me. Why would anyone work on Corpus Christi? Thus I was limited to making an omelette for dinner given the groceries I had brought from Budapest. Since I was on the train all morning, I hadn’t had eggs for breakfast, so I didn’t mind. The kitchen was packed though. Remember that Meninger is basically a hotel, but with 4-6 beds per room. So there are literally thousands of people staying here, yet the kitchen is smaller than mine at home. It took awhile to get a burner and even when I did, I was butting elbows with a half dozen different people trying to cook on 4 burners. The girls next to me had broccoli. I was very jealous and hoped that the grocery store would have some for my omelette tomorrow. After eating, it was starting to get dark and I felt like going for a walk around the town. Just a few minutes in, it started to sprinkle and I almost turned back, but I’m so glad I didn’t. My little walk turned into a 4 hour wandering around all of Vienna. I definitely got shiny object syndrome. Vienna is a beautiful place, but at night it is breath-taking. I don’t have much to report from my 4 hour jaunt other than the pictures that resulted…

First, the Rathaus (town hall)

….then Parliament….

…then a few of the Hofburg Palaces…

….the Opera house…

I had also been told that Belvedere Castle was beautiful at night. It’s a ways outside of town, but walkable, so I made the trek. It was probably a 45 minute jaunt. When I got there, however, all of the gates were closed off. It did look beautiful, but the closest I could get was about a quarter mile away through trees. Worst of all, it was on the Southeast part of town and my hostel is on the Northwest, so it was a good hour hike to get home. The only blemish on an otherwise wonderful night of exploring.

and just for kicks…
Marc O’Polo

and last but not least…
No, this is not the Jewish Weiner Choir. You should know that the Viennese call Vienna Wein, so this is the Vienna Jewish Choir. :-)

That’s all for now! Big day tomorrow…going to Schonbrun palace!

Posted by atbrady 15:30 Archived in Austria Tagged vienna st. palace austria house opera peters hofburg stephans Comments (0)

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